Positive Practice in Mental Health

Since 2007, The Reader Organisation has had a Reader-in-Residence scheme (based on the Get Into Reading model) at Mersey Care NHS Trust, and it continues to grow from strength to strength. In an article written for Positive Practice in Mental Health, Lindsey Dyer, Director for Service Users and Carers at the Trust, explains the success of the project and members of the senior management team are taking time out of their busy schedules to run a weekly read aloud reading group for service users:

Unlike the mainstream of specialist mental health services, Get Into Reading is not concerned with ameliorating or treating mental health conditions or in building peoples’ coping capacity. It has a very different starting point – the shared human experience.

What Get Into Reading does is create inclusive, safe places where people can come together as equals and, through great books, share creative and critical thinking about life itself in all its manifestations including experience of mental distress.

Read Lindsey’s article in full here.

If you’d like to know more about the Reader-in-Residence scheme, please contact Mary Weston: maryweston@thereader.org.uk/0151 794 2830.

Merseyside Community Theatre in the Spotlight (again!)

Sonja Sohn with MCT's Steve McGowan

Following on from Sonja Sohn’s visit to Croxteth Fire Station to meet our Merseyside Community Theatre team, Society Guardian (and, rather excitingly, currently on the front page of the Guardian’s website, for today at least) have published an article all about that sunny day back in June, where Sonja took to Juliet’s balcony…

It is a blisteringly hot midsummer evening and one of the lead actors from The Wire is standing atop a fire escape at Croxteth fire station in Liverpool, smoke swirling around her legs, reading from Romeo and Juliet.

Read the rest of the article here.

Romeo and Juliet is being performed Thursday 26th – Saturday 28th August, 7.30pm (plus a matinee on Saturday 28th at 2.30pm) at Croxteth Fire Station, Storrington Avenue, L11 9AP

Just turn up in time for the show, or contact Emma on emmamcgordon@thereader.org.uk or 07739420009 to ensure you get a space!


Latitude Reading Fiesta

By Eleanor McCann and Jon Davis, Get Into Reading project workers (and The Make-Shift TRO Festival Team)

It’s back down to earth after a fantastic trip to Suffolk for this year’s Latitude Festival. A tidy team of two, we travelled down to the site two weeks ago, armed with a box of short stories and poems and a truck-load of back issues.  Both of us book and music-lovers, we were up for the challenge of setting up ‘spontaneous’ reading groups amongst the stages and generally taking The Reader on down to the Sunrise Coast.

After careful positioning of The Reader banner (warning: do not use in winds exceeding 1mph!) on the first day, we set up base. We had come prepared with a blanket, some cushions and, the ultimate clincher, four packs of biscuits. We went on to run a total of ten reading groups over the course of the weekend and, with the ages of group members ranging from about sixteen to sixty, we were pleased to meet and read with all kinds of people – from librarians to students, photographers to paramedics.

We would recommend a couple of short stories from the weekend. Donald Barthelme’s ‘The Balloon’ was probably the most popular one. Somewhat surreal, the story led us on to talk about the impact of living in an urban environment on a person’s behaviour, the desire for meaning in the modern world and the ways in which people display distress.

‘The Wishing Box’, by Sylvia Plath, stirred up thoughts on whether there is a link between someone’s dreams and their imaginative capacity. It was fun to share some of our own weird and wonderful nocturnal experiences! We also considered the inward competitiveness of couples, discussing the intensity of being close to a creative person and how their energies have the potential to be destructive for relationships. With another group we tried Plath’s poem ‘Morning Song’. In this poem, is this mother proud of, and intrigued by, her newborn child or is she irritated by the weight of maternal responsibility? We spent a while thrashing this out and decided it is probably a bit of both.

Of the other poems we read, ‘Trust’ (Lawrence) and ‘Crossing the Bar’ (Tennyson) went down well. We decided to tackle an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s ‘East Coker’ with two confident readers. Taking the last stanzas, we enjoyed attempting to crack the poem’s riddles, talking about the idea of a life as a unified cycle (‘In my end is my beginning’) and, as this seemed partly related to age and we were all young adults, we felt we were probably positioned quite close together on Eliot’s circle. The line, ‘Love is most nearly itself/ When here and now have ceased to matter’ stood out of a poem, which, together, we ‘most nearly’ came to grasp.

Running a reading group outdoors, and amidst the buzz and bustle of festival goers, presented a definite challenge. We found ourselves competing with the noise of comedians, bands and stereos but perseverance and our biggest declamatory reading voices saw us through!

Bumping into Blake Morrison in the camping area, we were glad to have made contact with our patron, who said he’d give The Reader Organisation a shout out at his gig in the literary tent on the Sunday afternoon.

Highlights work-wise:

  • The teenage boy who read the poem out loud. Twice.
  • The lady who said ‘It’s good because you read the poem the first time and you’re not really sure what’s going on but just spending a short time talking about it together opens it all up.’
  • The young man who, when asked what he would like to read, joked ‘T.S. Eliot’ and then ended up reading ‘East Coker’ with us.

And other-wise:

  • the XX, John Cooper Clarke (and his best haiku ever: ‘To convey one’s mood in seventeen syllables is very diffic’), the funny sketch show people, the song ‘Sometimes’ by James, Jonsi’s voice and the epic drumming which drowned it out, Soreen malt loaf – a festival god-send, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and the performers’ camp-site with (wait for it…) TOILET PAPER IN THE TOILETS!

So, the two of us felt as though the mission had been altogether worthwhile: the magazines attracted a lot of attention – they seemed to draw people towards us – and there seemed to be real interest in the work of the organisation as a whole. Overall, we came into direct contact with about a hundred people, plus the many more who would have seen the banner.

Hopefully our presence will have stirred up a bit more awareness of The Reader Organisation in the south and a bit of networking will have paved the way for more opportunities for us.  It was also great for us as individuals to get more experience of running groups and to do so in an untrodden environment. We were delighted to have the chance to try something new and to take advantage of the general festival vibe, one which encourages people to be inquisitive and open to new experiences.

Bring on the next reading fiesta!

Thanks to Jen, Leila, Clare and Lee for providing us with tickets, an atlas, leaflets and a sturdy gazebo in case of the rain which never came!

iPad Publishing: is A Singing Whale the first of many?

At the beginning of July, Ryu Murakami announced that he would be publishing his new book, A Singing Whale, with Apple as an exclusive iPad download. This is not ‘just an eBook’ either: with video content and a soundtrack by Oscar-winning Ryuichi Sakamoto (who has collaborated with one of my favourite contemporary artists, Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto), this book will be unlike anything else we’ve ‘read’ before and I’ll certainly be adding to my reading list to give it a go (not that I have an iPad. Yet).

However, as technology progresses and we are offered new and innovative forms of reading, what does this mean for the publishing industry? As  intriguing and exciting as Ryu Murakami’s deal with Apple is, he has left his publisher in the dust and gone straight to the technology giant to get his new book to readers. Not so bad if it’s just him, perhaps, but what if there are many authors that follow hot on his heels (and I think there will probably be a fair few)? It’s a worrying thought but, just maybe, we’ll see the world of reading develop more fully from a beleif that only one form of publishing can exist to realising that there are different markets and that both eBooks (especially those that are complemented by audio and visual elements) and proper books (if I dare call them that) can exist together, each offering different things: we’ll have eBooks and paper books, not one or the other; the sphere of reading may open up, particularly if technology is able to engage with different readers and bring them to the world of literature by new means. I don’t think that my desire to read A Singing Whale will in any way change the fact that I love to read a good novel with pages.

Maybe this won’t signal the beginning of the end but rather the beginning of a new beginning for reading, one that encompasses technology and tradition, and alongside that, if we can continue to encourage more people to be sharing their reading in groups, the reading revolution may be kicking off very differently. Or maybe I’m just hoping for the best of both worlds and in reality, that’s just not possible. Time will tell. And during that time, what will I really spend more time on, reading books or thinking of ways in which I can make money to buy an iPad? One guess.

Simon Armitage Walks O’er Vales and Hills

Amongst the favourite poems with our readers in Get Into Reading groups are those by Simon Armitage. Today I discovered that the Yorskhire poet is walking the 264 mile Pennine Way. Not only is he walking (in the wind, rain and, at times, sunshine), he is doing it without a penny. He is getting by on the power of his poetry alone (and the general kindness of the British public), in his words, “it’s basically 264 miles of begging”.

Read about how he’s getting on with his walk on the BBC’s website and more about his project (and forthcoming book about it) on The Independent’s.

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Get 21st-century Makeover

Farewell to the awful swotters, dirty tinkers and jolly japes: Enid Blyton’s language is being dragged out of the 1940s by her publisher in an attempt to give her books greater appeal for today’s children.

Read the article from Friday’s Guardian in full here and let us know what you think.

From The Reader 15: Will Self on Motorway Service Stations

Country Walks
by Will Self

1. Toddington Services. Distance – 53 metres. Approximate time – Four hours for a fit walker, six hours if you’re only in moderate condition.

Leave your car by the driver, passenger or rear doors. Leave it slowly and carefully, remember, nothing is more easy than to become entangled in your seat belt, or lose your way in a fug of child fart and cigarette smoke. Make sure your mobile phone is switched on at all times. If you find yourself lost during this first part of the walk nothing can be easier than to call up the mobile phone you keep in the glove compartment, and then, by employing an orienteering compass and the driver’s handbook, to take a bearing, in order to ascertain exactly where it is you may have got to. Having gained the ground thread your way between the tiny peaks and troughs of the Asphalt Surface, noting its beauty and resilience. The thick white lines may be a struggle to cross, but the views from their summits are awe inspiring. The first beauty spot is a rubbish bin overflowing with half-chewed chips, mashed chicken nuggets, mushed burger buns, crushed soft drink cans, which in summer is a breeding ground for a buzzing, multicoloured horde of flies and wasps. Many walkers will enjoy sitting down for an hour or so here – utilising a discarded fag packet as a hide – and fly watching. Pressing on after a very dry sandwich, it should be possible to reach the booth where they sell AA membership in under an hour. The steps up to the automatic doors into the service centre can prove too much even for seasoned walkers, but don’t worry, bearers, porters and a chairlift are all available. Once inside the service centre follow the rank stench of urine in the direction of the toilets, but veer off at the point when you realise you’d like to buy some chewing gum. Do not be disturbed by the way people hear wear plastic wrappers disguising their gender. Was it not always thus? You can overnight in the Travel Lodge, where prosaic dreams represent genuine value for money.

Global Coffee Price List

Espresso – £1.00

Double Espresso – £1.40

Cappuccino – £1.50

Latte (tall / grande) – £1.20 / £1.50

Cluster Bomb Latte (includes over three hundred extra little coffee bomblets, each one of which will burst to cover the customer with the products of a well established multinational brand. Make your own choice form Nike, Gap, Adidas, Microsoft, Intel, Ghost, Disney, Body News Corp, Apple, IBM and many many more) – £1.40

Extra Shot – 50p

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This originally appeared in The Reader magazine, issue 15. Subscribe to the magazine here.

Art Meets Print

This is not to say that one should judge a book by its cover but, if you like a good book cover, visit Art Meets Print, where you will find something simply perfect if you are a serious bibliophile, graphic design nerd, poet, minimalist, person who can’t decide what to put on their walls, pretentious literary type, and any combination thereof.

I think they’re wonderful (I am also wondering quite what combination thereof I am…).